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Does the last part of the following sentence sound natural for native speakers?

"Alicia was standing under the tree during rain".

Some users have suggested I need to place the article "the" before the noun rain. Could anyone please explain why? And some answers have suggested that "during" should be replaced with "while" or "whilst", but aren't they synonymous? Why should I prefer "while" to "during"?

  • The minimum change needed to make it "acceptable" is probably Alicia was standing under the tree during the rain. But I'm sure most of us would prefer ...in the rain. – FumbleFingers Nov 8 '15 at 19:54
  • OK, FumbleFingers. But, why inserting the definite article "the". – mido mido Nov 8 '15 at 20:00
  • You are right, Mari. It is my fault. – mido mido Nov 9 '15 at 6:56
  • @FumbleFingers: The main problem with in the rain is that it suggest a physical position outside a shelter. If you stand in the rain, you get wet. If you shelter under a tree, you don't. While refers to the time, not the position, and is therefore more correct. – MSalters Nov 9 '15 at 13:34
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    @FumbleFingers: Well, just checking the top entries, 4 of them are from the "London quarterly review". And if I click on page 2 and then 3, the number of results gets reduced to 25. Considering the indexed corpus, I'm not impressed by 22 unique results. And the form ".. slept under a tree in the rain" is underlining the message that they slept outside under conditions where you really would want to sleep inside, so it's all about physical location. – MSalters Nov 10 '15 at 14:57
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I think it would sound better like this: Alicia was standing under the tree while it was raining.

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    Thanks Cristina, your answer is perfect. But the problem is that we often encounter some structures that we are not sure if they are really used by native speakers or not. – mido mido Nov 8 '15 at 19:21
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'Alicia stood under the tree whilst it was raining'. 'Alicia was standing under the tree in the rain'. 'Alicia was standing under the tree whilst it rained' 'Alicia stood under the tree during the rainstorm' Any of those would work.

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    Do you have any reason why you use "whilst"? – user140086 Nov 8 '15 at 19:29
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    Thank you Kristen. But, is "whilst" common in spoken British English? – mido mido Nov 8 '15 at 19:41
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    I'm sure "whilst" is probably technically correct in American English but it's so obscure as to sound ridiculous. (I speak only for American English of course.) – Matt Samuel Nov 8 '15 at 23:51
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"During rain" is not a typical American way of expressing this. As noted above by Lacy, those are more typical modes of expression.

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The problem with during rain is that during is followed by an indication of a time period. During the winter or during Christmas make perfect sense.

Rain without a definite article generally refers to actual drops of water that are falling. "Rain is falling on my head".

The choice of while over during is because during is followed by a noun, and we don't have a convenient noun available here. The verb to rain allows us to form while it rained. This particular case is not a general rule for all weather-related phenomena. During the storm is perfectly fine; storm is a noun which clearly describes an event.

  • Thank you very much, MsAlters. Your explanation is very reasonable. I really agree with you all that "While Clause" is more common than "During Clause" in such a structure. And the definite article, although it is not common, is at least necessary to make it acceptable. Anyway thank you all for your generous comments. – mido mido Nov 9 '15 at 14:39
  • @midomido The definite article IS common, and IS NOT optional in your sentence. :) – michael_timofeev Nov 9 '15 at 15:35
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    Of course, Michael. Now, I do agree with you about the use of the definite article with the word "rain". Thanks for the song. – mido mido Nov 9 '15 at 17:20
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The word "rain" is an activity noun. Most activity nouns do not take "the" as an article. Rain, (along with a few other activity nouns) is an exception and takes "the." When we say "the rain" we are talking about the weather activity. When we say "rain" we mean the actual water. (There is a song "Singing in The rain." Watch it on youtube, it's a classic. http://youtu.be/w40ushYAaYA)

Here are some examples of activity nouns that don;t take "the" in sentences: "I like going to church." "I was sent to jail." "I'm tired. I think I'll go to bed." Here are some of the exceptions: "I need to see the doctor." "If you want answers, you should go to the library." "Can you find avocados at the store during Winter?"

So, your sentence works best with "the," and I would write it thus: "Alicia was standing under the tree during the rain." However, I think it works better if you use the simple past, "Alicia stood under the tree during the rain."

"Whilst" is used chiefly in BrE. It introduces a "background activity" in which to place an event. "While I was writing this answer, my dog begged for attention." "While" cannot be placed before "the rain" in your sentence because it is not a preposition but a subordinate conjunction (http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000377.htm). If you want to use "while" (and you can) this is a possibility: "While it rained, Alicia was standing under the tree." I prefer, "While it rained, Alicia stood under the tree."

Hope this helps. Ask in the comments section if you need some follow-up.

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